2009 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

More extensive previews coming as the season approaches, and this preview is a way to get a first look at the team, and also be corrected on anything I might have wrong. Highlighted players in the charts below are returning for 2009. Notre Dame’s website is poorly designed, plus they’re too good to “redshirt” they “grant 5th-year eligibility” which is the exact same thing under a more pretentious name.

Notre Dame Offense

It’s unclear whether Evan Sharpley will return for his redshirt senior year, since he’s bigger into the baseball than football, in my recollection. Fear not though, incoming freshman Dayne Crist is expected to be the new 5-year Heisman winner for the Irish, and he might end up being the backup over Sharpley.


Notre Dame QBs Passing 2008
Name Comp Att % Yds TD Int Yds/Att
Jimmy Clausen 268 440 60.91 3172 25 17 7.21
Evan Sharpley 3 5 60.00 18 0 0 3.60
Notre Dame QBs Rushing 2008
Name Rush Yds TD Yds/Rush
Evan Sharpley 4 1 0 0.25
Jimmy Clausen 54 -73 0 -1.35

Clausen took a big leap forward last year (partially a product of a functional-ish offense), and if he continues that, he might finally live up to about a third of the hype he got coming out of high school. If he gets hurt, however, it’ll be either a true freshman (Crist) or a guy who has never participated in spring practice because he’s busy playing baseball (Sharpley) backing his up.

Like many positions on this team, the Irish return everyone of note at the running back position. Expect Gray to get a little more action this year, as he’ll no longer be a true freshman. Allen and Hughes will likely still carry the load, however.


Notre Dame RBs Rushing 2008
Name Rush Yds TD Yds/Rush
Armando Allen 134 585 3 4.37
Robert Hughes 112 382 4 3.41
James Aldridge 91 357 3 3.92
Jonas Gray 21 90 0 4.23
Asaph Schwapp (FB) 1 2 0 2.00
Notore Dame RBs Receiving 2008
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Armando Allen 50 355 2 7.1
Robert Hughes 14 93 0 6.64
Asaph Schwapp 2 13 0 6.50
James Aldridge 3 1 0 0.33

This is a definite position of strength for the Irish – at least as much as it can be, since they’ve run the ball pretty inconsistently ever since Weis has been around, and much more so in the past couple years. How much of that is offensive line play, and how much should be on the backs? We’ll see.

Golden Tate was a star-in-the-making last year, and he’ll certainly start all of 2009. His best fit might be at the slot in 3-wide (or 4-wide) sets, giving other players a chance to step up on the outside as well. Floyd is a big reeiver in the Braylon mold, and Rudolph will try to bring some playmaking back to the tight end position, which the Irish haven’t had consistently since Anthony Fasano left.


Notre Dame Receivers 2008
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Golden Tate 58 1080 10 18.62
Michael Floyd 48 719 7 14.98
David Grimes 35 321 3 9.17
Kyle Rudolph (TE) 29 340 2 11.72
Duval Kamara 20 206 1 10.30
Robby Parris 9 50 0 5.56
George West 1 6 0 6.00
Will Yeatman (TE) 2 6 0 3.00

Tate is a great deep threat, as Michigan fans are all too aware. The other guys were good last year, but not particularly exciting. Caveat: This was a very young unit last year, and with another year of experience under their belts, they should be able to do more in the offense.

Offensive Line

Paul Duncan, a fifth-year senior, is expected to start at left tackle, after taking an injury redshirt last year. He should be backed up by highly-touted and very-ugly junior Matt Romine. At left guard, 5th-year senior Eric Olsen will start, with redshirt sophomore Andrew Nuss behind him. At center, redshirt junior Dan Wenger will be backed up by Braxton Cave. Chris Stewart, a redshirt junior, will be right guard, with Mike & Mike spawn Mike GOlic Jr. moving from center to back him up. At right tackle, junior Sam Young, who has been awful in each of his previous campaigns, despite lofty #1-overall-recruit status, will be spelled by Lane Clelland.

The Irish offensive line has been crap for the past couple years. They were slightly better last year, and Notre ame has canned the offensive line coach in an attempt to make things at least adequate. They return several starters, and there is no excuse (not that there was last year, and there was only a limited one the previous year) for yet another terrible performance. Paul Duncan struggled at LT before being replaced (an injury expedited this move) last year.

Offensive Analysis
The Notre Dame offense finally has some experience after the past couple years oscillating between terrible and mediocre. Still, you have to wonder exactly how shrewd Weis is, since he’s supposedly an offensive genius, and his teams have mostly been utter crap the past two years. Spare me the “Willingham’s last two classes sucked” mantra as well. Weis’s 3-8 year was with players from HIS recruiting classes that would have been juniors at the time. Sounds like his first 2-3 recruiting classes must not have been all that great either. For someone whose motto is “no excuses,” making excuses seems to be all that Weis does. If Clausen can make another step forward in ’09 (and, sadly, Weis’s track record implies that he will), the Irish offense should be able to move the ball fairly well.

Notre Dame Defense

Defensive Line
This all depends on whether the Irish make up their mind with regards to the 4-3 v. 3-4 debate. With Tenuta likely gaining clout within the staff (and with good reason – he’s a bigname coordinator), I would expect the 3-4. Pat Kuntz and Justin Brown are both gone, and Ethan Johnson will step up to fill one of the DE spots full-time. He’s put on a ton of weight (Michigan wanted him as a 4-3 DE coming out of high school , when he weighed around 240), and Irish fans are hoping he’ll be able to occupy a couple gaps. Ian Williams and Morrice Richardson should be the other starters. Behind them, there is scary little depth.


Name Tack TFL Sack Int Fum
Patrick Kuntz 42 8 3 1 1
Ian Williams 40 2 0 0 0
Justin Brown 24 4.5 0 0 0
Ethan Johnson 17 4 3.5 0 0
Morrice Richardson 11 0.5 0.5 0 0
Emeka Nwankwo 2 0 0 0 0

If the starters can’t step up into full-time roles, the Irish DL could be in trouble. This is especially troubling in the 3-4 defense, where the DL is absolutely vital to keeping the playmaking linebackers unblocked. Still, the starters should be adequate, if not better. Johnson excelled at getting to the QB last year, so it’ll be interesting to see how he is utilized in ’09.

Maurice Crum is gone, but the Irish had plenty of linebackers get some experience and playing time last year. Brian Smith and Darius Fleming will play big roles for the defense, along with Kerry Neal. Toryan Smith and Steve Quinn should compete to be the 4th linebacker starting for the Irish. Incoming freshman Manti Te’o is the most exciting player (at least based on guru ratings), so expect him to play as well.


Notre Dame Linebackers 2008
Name Tack TFL Sack Int Fum
Maurice Crum 65 5.5 3 0 0
Brian Smith 54 4 2 0 1
Darius Fleming 25 2.5 2.5 0 0
Kerry Neal 25 4 2 1 0
Toryan Smith 18 0 0 0 1
Steve Quinn 14 3 3 0 0
Scott Smith 12 1 1 0 0
John Ryan 7 0 0 0 0
Steve Filer 1 0 0 0 0
Kevin Washington 1 0 0 0 0

Crum wasn’t so much a star as a guy put in position to make plays and making them. None of the replacement players are flashy either, but they should be able to step in and make the plays that Crum did. That said, they won’t do anything that makes you say “wow,” either. They’ll just be a group getting the job done. Te’o brings the flair some, and he may leave on a Mormon mission, so don’t be surprised if the Irish play him early, to get as much as they can out of the guy.

Defensive Backs
The Irish lose Davis Bruton, who was a pretty good player at one of the safety positions. Harrison Smith will replace him, and Kyle McCarthy will return at the other safety spot. Raeshon McNeil will return at one corner position, and Robert Blanton was a pseudo-starter at the other spot by the end of the year, so he’ll probably man the other position. Terrail Lambert, the player he is replacing, was oft-maligned by Irish fans, so I don’t think they’ll lament his departure, except in terms of depth.


Notre Dame Defensive Backs 2008
Name Tack TFL Sack Int
Kyle McCarthy 110 3.5 0 2
David Bruton 97 1.5 0 4
Harrison Smith 57 8.5 3.5 0
Raeshon McNeil 41 0 0 2
Robert Blanton 33 3 0 2
Terrail Lambert 33 0 0 0
Sergio Brown 28 2 1 0
Mike Anello 23 0 0 0
Ray Herring 17 0 0 0
Gary Gray 15 0 0 2
Leonard Gordon 5 0 0 0
John Leonis 1 0 0 0

McCarthy is a safety in the “hey look we have a white safety” Tom Zbikowski mold, and he’s similarly… adequate. Losing Bruton could be a pretty big hit for the Irish, as he was their best ballhawk, in addition to being the guy who made a lot of plays for the Irish. Harrison Smith was more of a designated blitzer than a true safty often last year (think Brandon Harrison), so he might struggle to make a transition to playing deep. The corners should be decent, but the depth there is not great.

Defensive Analysis
The 3-4, assuming the Irish plan to use it as their identity full-time now, really relies on defensive linemen to occupy the offensive line, leaving the linebackers free to make plays. In that light, losing 2 defensive linemen is a pretty huge question mark, especially when the leading tackler at linebacker is gone. Another interesting note is that the linebacking corps didn’t make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, which is one thing that the 3-4 defense is designed to allow them to do. Is that a scheme matter or just a lack of good enough bodies? If they switch back the the 4-3 fulltime, they still are very weak along the defensive line, but the linebackers are less of an issue. The secondary should be pretty good, though without a ton of depth. It seems as though Michigan’s run-game strength should be able to run the ball fairly well against the Irish. Will it be enough?

Special Teams

Punter Eric Maust returns, as does kicker Brandon Walker.


Notre Dame Kicking 2008
Name XPM XPA % FGM FGA Long %
Brandon Walker 39 39 100.00 14 24 48 58.33
Notre Dame Punting 2008
Name Punt Yds Yds/Punt
Ben Armer 50 2032 40.64

Walker was money on extra points last year, but boy, is that field goal percentage scary. He doesn’t have a great excuse either, as it was his second year as the starter (he went 6/12 as a freshman). He has the leg, nailing a 48-yarder last year, he’s just frighteningly inconsistent. In fact, that led, in part, to the Irish’s demise against GERG last year, as he missed 3(!) of his 6(!) field goal attempts.

Overall Analysis

The Irish return enough talented players to take a huge leap forward in 2009 – though we were saying the same thing last year. This is a definite make-or-break year for Weis, and if he can’t win with this team, it just shows that he isn’t cut out to be a head coach at the college level. The Irish will be strong on offense, which should really drive this team. The question remains: which was the real Irish offense, the one we saw against BC or the one we saw against Hawaii? I’d lean more towards BC, since the Warriors had a pitiful defense last year.

Posted under Analysis, Football

Mid Week Roundup: Notre Dame

Michigan split a pair of mid week games at Notre Dame last night.  It was one of those nights where Maloney was out to throw as many pitchers as possible just to get them work.  Even with that mindset, some pitchers still couldn’t make it through just an inning of work (Travis Smith, I’m looking at you).  Overall though, most of the pitchers did fairly well from what I heard on MGoBlue and the comments yesterday.

Katzman looked shaky in his one inning of work, walking the lead off batter and then hitting Golden Tate with a pitch to start the game.  After a strikeout and another walk, he managed to escape the inning without a run.

Kolby Wood threw the long relief; he was originally scheduled to start.  Over his 4 innings, he only gave up 2 runs on 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 Ks.  He worked into a bases loaded jam in the 2nd and induced a double play, then again, in the 5th, he got a critical double play to preserve the lead.  After giving up a single and double to open 6th, Wood was pulled for…

Tyler Burgoon.  Burgoon managed to get a fly ball on the first batter, but it was deep enough to score a run.  Groundout, RBI single, double, groundout and we were out of the inning, but Wood lost the chance for the win.  Burgoon did pick up the win in the top of the 7th.  He’d close out the game with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout for the finish.  So while his first inning was a bit rough, he looked really good to finish.  Hopefully that shoulder isn’t affecting his pitching too much.

Game two started with Mike Wilson… and he wasn’t half bad.  He went 4 innings giving up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts.  His toughest inning was the second; he started by giving up back to back singles and a walk.  He worked his way out with a pair of strikeouts and a ground ball.  That’s the type of situtation Wilson hasn’t performed in well lately.  It was a real promising start.  After giving up only a hit in each of the 3rd and 4th inning, Wilson started to lose command to start the 5th.  He walked both batters he faced, opening the door to the bullpen.

Travis Smith came in and wouldn’t record an out.  The defense set the tone for his outing, with a John Lorenz error on the first batter Smith would face.  The next batter would single in two runs.  A hit by pitch and walk later, Notre Dame would score again.

Matt Miller would take over from here (still 0 outs in the 5th).  The first batter he faced flew out to Alan Oaks in left, plating a run on the sac fly.  Miller then struck out 4 of the next 5 batters to finish the game.  Miller was damn impressive.

Offensively, Coach had a chance to move some people around.  Ryan LaMarre was given the night off to rest; this was his first set of games to sit out.  Cislo also sat out most of the second game, coming in to pinch run in the last inning (and get caught stealing).

Despite the shakeup, Michigan was back to its favorite past time in game one – strikeouts.  The Wolverines struckout 10 times, lead by the hat trick of Kenny Fellows.  The left on base stat was also a little high, but about average for Michigan at 8.  Lorenz owned half of those, but I will point out that at least he didn’t strikeout this game.

The good came from Coley Crank.  Coley went 3/5 on the day with a double and a solo homerun.  Anthony Toth also went 3/6 with an RBI.

Defensively we had 2 errors on the game.  Berset had a throwing error that didn’t lead to a run, but should be at least noted.  Lorenz had the error (previously mentioned during the Travis Smith escapade) that lead to a run.  His defense has been suspect lately, but he did earn some props from Kolby Wood in game one:

“I came in and tried to aim the ball when I was first throwing and got into a jam[…] There were a couple of tough plays, and then John Lorenz, our third baseman, made a really nice play and picked me up. That gave me a lot of confidence.”

So at least he’s got that going for him.  The kid is still a freshman and will struggle.

In the long run, this doubleheader doesn’t mean much of anything.  It was good to see Michigan keep its composure in game one.  I was also glad to see we hit a pair of lefties around a little bit.  We’re facing two really good lefties this weekend from Indiana.  So hopefully this was good practice leading up to that.

First game Friday is at 6:35pm at the Fish.

Posted under Baseball

Baseball to Play Two Tomorrow

With FA unavailable, I’ll give the status update on baseball’s series with Notre Dame.

Today’s game in Ann Arbor was rained out, and will be made up tomorrow. However, instead of playing a home-and-home with the Irish, Michigan will now play a road doubleheader in South Bend. The games start at 4:30 PM tomorrow, though the weather doesn’t look particularly promising.

Remember, his brief preview of the series can be seen here, and hope for nice enough weather tomorrow to play the DH. Now the question is, do I drive down there for the games?

Posted under Baseball

Why Michigan 2008 isn’t Notre Dame 2007

The final part in a series that I started (and accidentally abandoned) a long time ago. The other teams of comparison were Minnesota 2007, Alabama 2007, and Nebraska 2004.

Notre Dame and Michigan’s 2007 and 2008 seasons, respectively, were somewhat similar. Does that mean Michigan is doomed to follow in the Irish’s footsteps and finish 6-6 in their next season? Let’s take a look at why or why not. First, there’s a comparison between the actual teams. As Brian explored on MGoBlog, despite the same record, Notre Dame’s season of terror was much more… terrible… than Michigan’s. So, although this post is primarily predictive, it’s important to note that Michigan’s year was nowhere near the disaster that ND’s was.

Another key difference between the two teams: 2007 was Weis’ third year in South Bend. He was playing with mostly his recruits (after doing all of his winning with Willingham’s oddly-lamented recruiting classes), at least the ones who hadn’t left after committing to Weis, spending two years in his program, earning starting jobs, and STILL hating the whale enough to ditch his program.

The Better

Michigan’s offense, though significantly better than Notre Dame’s, was full of first-time starters (every single player except for one – Steve Schilling), many of whom were never expected to contribute. The offensive line, in particular, didn’t have the accolades or experience of Notre Dame’s comparable unit, and they still managed to perform much better (as in “didn’t give up an NCAA record in sacks”). When you take into account that every single offensive player who had a meaningful role on the team (except Sam McGuffie, who missed much of the year with injury and was out when the offense started to, like, function) is back, and Notre Dame didn’t have quite that luxury between 2007 and 2008, it’s certainly a good sign for Michigan.

Michigan’s defense was supposed to be its strong suit in 2008, and that didn’t quite come to fruition. However, Michigan will be returning some of its most talented players on defense – defensive end Brandon Graham, corner Donovan Warren, and linebacker Obi Ezeh – and they are loking to build on that success.

The Worse

The quarterback situation for Michigan coming off 2008 is much wore than Notre Dame’s was the previous year. Though Jimmy Clausen had a horrible first year in South Bend, he was still the #1 overall recruit in the nation for a reason. Steven Threet, on the other hand (should he choose to stay) is a more limited, though still talented, player. If Michigan has to start a true freshman (or even a sophomore Threet), it will be a step down from a sophomore Clausen.

Michigan also lost its defensive coordinator, which can be seen as a blessing and a curse. Scott Shafer’s defense wasn’t the world-beater it was built up as before the season, but Michigan’s defense will still have to learn from its third coordinator in as many years, which certainly increases the likelihood of missed assignments, etc. Of course, GERG did beat the Irish in their house last year.

The Verdict

Halfway through last year, emulating ND’s two-year stretch might have been a pretty good goal for Michigan. The head-to-head win in the series, and a path to an 8-4 record (and therefore, ridiculously, a BCS bowl) seemed to be well within ND’s grasp. Then, of course, they fell flat on their faces, getting GERGed and not even registering a first down against USC until the third quarter. Rich Rodriguez’s noted track record of success and actual support (in the form of opinions) from people in the know would certainly seem to imply that the Wolverines aren’t headed for an extended down period like the Irish may be.

With Michigan’s fairly unique situation last year, particularly for a first-year coach, they were set up for a pretty special kind of suck. Notre Dame’s 2007 team, in all honesty, shouldn’t have been. With a year under the RR regime, a hell of a lot more experience, and some new recruits coming in, the Wolverines should be disappointed with a season like Notre Dame’s. Of course, expecting much better might be setting up unreasonable expectations (8 winsis a reasonable goal).

Posted under Analysis, Coaching, Football

Charlie Weis’s Return to Notre Dame Confirmed

As SMQ put itAnd the rest of college football laughs and laughs.

At this point, it is clear Charlie Weis is not going to succeed as a coach on any large scale at the college level, barring a completely-unforeseen turnaround. This obviously affects Michigan, as the Wolverines play Notre Dame for the next infinity years.

In the more immediate timeframe, this means that Notre Dame commits like Chris Watt and Shaquelle Evans, who had considered Michigan late in the process, will remain off (metaphorical) board. However, even if Notre Dame reels in a good recruiting class for 2009, they are likely to FAIL once more in the next season, and it is more relevant that Weis is stockpiling talent for the next Irish headman (thankfully, not Brian Kelly immediately).

And now, some humor at Weis’s expense:
Tim: charlie weis retained, and there is much rejoicing
Paul: do you think it was because kelly turned them down?
Tim: i dunno. i think they didn’t want to develop a reputation of cycling through coaches before giving the new guys a chance, plus the buyout thing
Paul: so they’re giving them the five years?
Tim: yeah, they give everyone 5 years, with necessary adjustments for melanin levels
Tim: charlie weis just went on a recruiting trip to hawaii. do you think he had to buy 2 seats on the plane?
Paul: hahaha
Tim: i’m just sayin’. the cost of that flight alone might have been worth paying the buyout instead
Paul: he may fit in with the samoan population
Tim: they are at least athletic and fat
Paul: yeah… CW has one of two. that’s closer than he is to most athletes
Tim: hey man, MCL injury
Paul: true

Posted under Football

At the Risk of Sounding like a Penn State Fan

Horrid (and questionable but possibly not right) calls that went against Michigan Saturday.

  • Chop block on David Molk. The right guard had not engaged the defensive tackle when Molk went low. This is as bad a judgment call as I’ve seen in a while.
  • Greg Mathews diving catch in the endzonde ruled incomplete. This was a close call, but Mathews’s right hand was between the ball and the ground the entire time, and the ball is not jarred loose when he hits the ground (a sure sign that he has full control of it). This isn’t an egregiously bad call, but another example of Michigan getting bad breaks in this game. (video below).
  • On 4th & 6, Steven Threet throws (slightly behind) Martavious Odoms. Odoms turns back for the ball, but has no chance to make a catch, because his left wrist is raked by the defender, so he can’t get it back to the ball.
  • On the very next play, there is no contact between Donovan Warren and Michael Floyd. The pass is broken up. More than three seconds after the play ends, an official away from the ball throws the least-justified pass interference flag possible. Even the NBC announcers(!) think it is a terrible call. On the next play, Golden Tate catches the game-sealing touchdown (in the first quarter, ugh). (video below)
  • Second quarter, Michigan has brought the game back within 11, Notre Dame is driving. On second and goal, Donovan Warren is called for pass interference (“a fag is down in the endzone”) on a ball that was thrown out the back of the endzone (again by a ref with an obstructed view of the play, wtf), and would have been uncatchable by anyone. Notre Dame scores a touchdown on the ensuing first and goal.
  • Michigan is driving in the second quarter, and Sam McGuffie is literally pulled to the ground by his facemask, and nothing else. The linesman (who is within 4 yards of the play) reaches for his flag, but decides against throwing it. Ultimately, the umpire says “wtf?” and has to throw the flag from 15 yards downfield. This isn’t exactly a missed call, since the umpire made up for it, but how does a linesman not call that?
  • Third quarter, Jimmy Clausen grounds it, no doubt at all. The NBC announcers, of course ruminate for a full minute on how “it was probably close enough” to the line of scrimmage. If it doesn’t pass the line of scrimmage, there is no “close enough.”
  • With 3:40 left in the third quarter, Michigan has the ball on ND’s 5. Kevin Grady is stopped for a 1-yard gain, and fumbles. His forward progress had been stopped for a good period of time before the fumble. For those who say it shouldn’t have been ruled forward progress because Grady had carried a guy into the endzone earlier in the game: you’re wrong. On the first play, Grady never stopped moving forward (and was hardly even slowed down). On the second play, Grady was wrapped up low by one Irish, and high by two, with his forward progress completely stoppped, when one of the guys up top strips him. It’s a completely different situation, which should result in a completely different call from the officials.
  • With 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, David Bruton makes an interception for the Irish. On the return, he is brought down by David Molk. Molk is called for a horse collar tackle (at least I think so, the NBC coverage was awful). However, what Molk did (grab and release the back of Bruton’s jersey, causing Bruton to lose his balance and fall down) is not at all a horse collar (definition: grabbing the inside of a ball-carrier’s shoulder pads and riding him to the ground). I don’t know how the refs could make such an egregious error on a 15-yard penalty.

Of course, Michigan beat themselves in this game, and they certainly had opportunities to win the game themselves. However, couple all of the above (9 possible mistakes by officials, with at least 3-4 being definite mistakes) with the following Michigan mistakes:

  • Following the Molk chop block, Steven Threet and Brandon Minor conspire to fumble the ball inside their own 20, giving Notre Dame a short field. Michigan’s defense can’t stop the Irish.
  • On the ensuing kickoff, Michael Shaw muffs the ball, giving Notre Dame yet another short field, on which they convert.
  • Donovan Warren, Stevie Brown, and John Thompson all miss tackles on Golden Tate, ultimately resulting in a Notre Dame touchdown.
  • Steven Threet fumbles a snap once the torrential downpour begins, which the Irish return for a touchdown.
  • Nick Sheridan. Egregious Interceptions. obvs. He completed all five passes he threw, but two of them were to the guys in blue shirts.

…and you have a recipe for disaster that is unlikely to be repeated again.

Notre Dame had no sustained drives, and was outgained 388-260. They also had every single fumble of their own bounce right back to their own players (the exact opposite of what happened to Michigan).

The Wolverines should look at Saturday’s contest with an optimistic light, and Notre Dame fans should be fearful that their win was little more than a fluke.

Posted under Analysis

Inside the Play: Notre Dame

The Situation
Thanks to a pair of fumbles giving the Irish offense short fields, Michigan trails Notre Dame 14-0. Now, a particularly questionable pass interference call on Donovan Warren has resulted in an Irish 1st and 10 on Michigan’s 48 yard line. Michigan’s defense needs a big stop to prevent the Wolverines from being blown out early.

The Personnel and Formation
The Irish line up with only one wide receiver (Golden Tate). They have two tight ends on the right side of the line, and a weak offset I-formation backfield. This is a clear running formation. To counter, Michigan comes out in their base 4-3. Morgan Trent is the corner lined up over Tate, and Donovan Warren is on the other side. Stevie Brown is 8 yards off the line of scrimmage at free safety, and Brandon Harrison is 15 yards deep as the strong safety.

The Play
Jimmy Clausen gives a play-action fake to Robert Hughes on a counter. Notre Dame leaves 9 men in pass protection, which leaves only one receiver running the route. Golden Tate runs a slant-and-go pattern, cutting in before going straight up the field. Clausen heaves the ball towards Tate, who has 2-3 yards on both Morgan Trent and Brandon Harrison. Tate reels in the ball on the 5 yard line, and waltzes into the endzone untouched.

Why it Worked
The blame for this touchdown does not fall on Stevie Brown. Repeat: Stevie Brown is not culpable. He wasn’t exactly stellar the rest of the day, but don’t rag on the kid for this touchdown. Our good friend GSimmons (a high school DC who runs Shafer’s 3-4 Okie package as his base defense and also knows much more about football than I ever will) lets us know that it appears Michigan is running a read-2 defense, which is a form of cover-2-like-substance. Morgan Trent sees Tate head inside, leading him to believe that Tate will not be a deep vertical threat. Because of this error in judgment, Trent does not cover a deep half, which allows Tate to get behind the defenders. By the time Trent and Harrison realize their error, Tate has enough space to make an easy touchdown grab. Charlie Weis’s decided schematic advantage (which apparently is not yakety saks after all) held true this once, as this was a perfect play call against this type of defense.

Now you know what it was like Inside the Play.

Posted under Analysis

Across the Border

Massey from Buckeye Commentary offer his thoughts on Michigan’s game. My views on OSU’s game can be found over there.

Michigan – Notre Dame

What I saw…
…was something no Wolverine fan wanted to see. A collapse in the biggest game of the year, to date. (And, before you jump down my throat, I know a collapse when I see one after attending Ohio State’s last three debacles on the national stage.)The big game meltdown practically became a trademark of Rodriguez before he left West Virginia. You do not have to look any further than the Mountaineers last regular season game in 2007.

I also watched a game eerily reminiscent of the Buckeyes’ blowout loss at the hands of the Trojans. Decent defense hampered by horrendous offense and turnovers.

I have no love for Michigan but they are a better team than Notre Dame. Their personnel is better at virtually every position save quarterback and some offensive line spots. The defenses should not be mentioned in the same sentence. Yet, they were never really in this game. Sure they piled up more yards, but the mistakes were crippling and immediate. After ten minutes, Notre Dame was averaging 3 points/play (7 plays = 21 points).

I know I said it last time, but I continue to be impressed with McGuffie.

What I Didn’t see…
…was an offense that can offer any support to the defense. The seven consecutive second-half possessions ending in punts or turnovers was, well, OSU-esque. As of right now, Michigan is 9-for-37 on third down. That’s 24%. Whoa.

I also did not see any progress from Nick Sheridan. I take it all back. In my review of the Utah game, I said Sheridan would eventually take over as the starter. Judging from these last two weeks, I could not be more wrong. I will not be surprised if you have seen the last of him for a while now. Why bother playing him?

Who I watched …
…McGuffie was hard to ignore. Why? Because his main competition fumbled away opportunities to get reps. The other four RBs only had 10 carries while McGuffie received 25 carries and caught four passes. That means he touched the ball on almost half of the Wolverines offensive plays (29 of 70, 42%).

What I expect next week…
…is a lot of practice holding onto the ball. I know the weather was nasty in the second half when most of the turnovers occurred, but the Irish managed to hold onto it. Aside from that, I would be willing to bet that Threet and McGuffie get plenty of reps together in practice in order to build timing and backfield cohesiveness. They have to be the starting backfield at this point. There are no other viable options. They should receive 90% of the work. Michigan needs to take advantage of this bye week with the back-to-back home games versus Wisconsin and Illinois up next.

What this can tell us about The Game…
Michigan is lot farther from beating Ohio State than the Buckeyes’ dismal performance in Los Angeles might suggest. Ohio State has trouble protecting the quarterback against an aggressive defense. Michigan, on the other hand, did not sack Clausen last week after registering 8 in 2007. If the Wolverines cannot get through that offensive line, I have little faith that they will be able to penetrate OSU’s porous unit.

It also tells me that Rodriguez needs to prove that he can win the most important games on the schedule, whether they be generated by circumstance or rivalry. I have not seen that from him yet.

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Notre Dame Game in Allusions

I’ve decided this will be a semi-regular feature. I really couldn’t think of anything for Miami but there’s plenty in this game.

The Weather is Straight out of The Odyssey. You know how Odysseus and a few of his men get stuck in Cyclops’s cave? They took some timber, sharpened an end and blinded Cyclops and then escaped by lashing themselves to the undersides of his sheep, so they slip out without being detected. Well, unfortunately for them Cyclops was Poseidon’s son, and Poseidon controls the weather on the ocean. Poseidon was angry that they did that to his son and whipped up a storm that sunk every boat save Odysseus’ and knocked his off into the edge of the world. I’m not sure what giant creature Rich Rodriguez blinded, but whichever deity controls the weather in South Bend sure as hell was pissed. The kicker is that this malevolent deity waited until its team was up by double digits before unleashing its wrath. Crafty…

Jimmy Clausen is Portia from The Merchant of Venice. Portia is definitely the hero of this play, and Jimmy Clausen was arguably the hero of the game on Saturday. I would personally say Michigan’s slippery hands were the hero, but if you want a person, Jimmy will do. The short version of this joke is that Portia is a women who dresses up as a man to save the day. I mean, have you seen Clausen’s hair? The longer story, is that she went to save Antonio who was in danger of losing a pound of flesh as he guaranteed his friend’s, Basonio, loan. Basonio is inept at his job, but still manages to land Portia, a wealthy heiress, by performing an arbitrary task. Weis, on the same token, is an inept coach who managed to land a very highly regarded (albeit feminine) recruit, most likely by consuming two whole turkeys. I’m not sure who Antonio would be. Maybe Jack Swarbick, Notre Dame’s Atheltic Director. The main components of Antonio are loyalty, a basic level of competancy and a strong hatred of jews, so maybe? I don’t judge.


The Game in General
is The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. The main character, Jurgis Rudkus, is a Lithuanian immigrant fresh off the boat (well, that plus the trip to Chicago). He has an indomitable love for the American dream of pulling himself up by the bootstraps. Jurgis could be Michigan in general. Stepping bravely into new uncharted lands with a firm belief that, despite toil and tribulations, there is a higher goal that will inevitably be achieved. Early on in the novel, tragedy strikes quickly in the form of unscrupulous guests taking advantage of a wedding party and even taking what few donations were given leaving the family with nothing. Similarly, right out of the gate some players coughed up the ball and Michigan was left with a 21 point debt.

Although the main point of The Jungle may have been an evisceration of capitalism in favor of socialism (which some may agree with), the main thing I remember about the novel is a couple good things happening to Jurgis and then some massive tragedy coming out of left field. For example:

  1. Jurgis gets a job
  2. The women of the family were able to scrounge and make a nice meal
  3. Jurgis‘ son drowns in the mud while Jurgis is working.

In the game, most of what happened was good: McGuffie looked dominant, Threet looked acceptable++ and the receivers were making plays, but then there would be a hope killing turnover. Eventually it was too much for Jurgis (Rodriguez) to deal with and he just gave up (put in Sheridan*). The last hundred or so pages are basically socialist propaganda which, if you’ve been over to Wolverine Liberation Army since the game, you got as well. Sometimes these are just eerie…

*Reports are Threet came out with cramps, which seems like a logical answer.

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Slightly Less Immediate Reactions

The refs were truly brutal in this game. I certainly won’t blame them for the end result, but they definitely had a hand in getting the game there. Awful PI calls on Warren, a somewhat questionable one on Trent, and a catch by Mathews gave the Irish about a 15 point swing, and when playing from behind, players are more likely to take risks to make a big play. Also, the Grady fumble should have been called dead for forward progress. That was a hell of a missed call. Again, the players are ultimately responsible for the result, but this is a young team that didn’t really deserve the help in beating itself.

The defensive line was kinda crappy. Though they ultimately allowed ND to get only 3.3 yards for each carry, they gave up some critical yards in the third and fourth quarters. Still, when the defense only gives up 1 or 2 scoring drives (one ND TD “drive” started at the Michigan 11, one at the Michigan 14, two were composed almost entirely of a long pass to Golden Tate, and the final TD was scored on defense), it’s hard to find a ton of fault on that side of the ball.

Steven Threet, as predicted by many, has settled down the more game reps he has gotten. He finally calmed down enough to execute the throws that he was floating before. Then Sheridan came in a reminded Michigan fans why they should want Threet to succeed.

Sam McGuffie looks like the real deal. The offensive line was still sub-optimal against the Irish, and McGuffie had some impressive runs (and of course the screen pass). It was so kind of Perry Dorrestein to slam into McGuffie from behind on the touchdown screen.

Going forward, this game should probably give a little more hope to Michigan fans, though they are still disappointed for what could have been. I guess that’s what Michigan gets for RUNNING THE SPREAD OPTION IN HURRICANE KATRINA.

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